Get advice Read our legal guides When social services are involved for women in prison You can download a copy of this guide here. This guide looks at the involvement of social services with children. It is for women in prison who want to know what their rights are. It only covers the law in England and Wales. This guide contains general legal information, it is not legal advice as everyone’s situation will be different. The term ‘social services’ is known by professionals as the ‘local authority’. This guide will use the term ‘local authority’, as this is the term that would be used by the Family Court. For help with some of the words used, see the Definitions section at the end of the guide. Many women find it upsetting to think about their family while they are in prison. If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this guide, make sure you speak to someone about it. You can get legal advice about your circumstances from the Prisoners’ Advice Service. Or you may want to talk to someone about how you are feeling. You can speak to the family engagement worker, a peer mentor, the chaplaincy, the mental health team or the Samaritans. See additional support. MY CHILDREN HAVE JUST BEEN TAKEN INTO CARE – WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Speak to the family engagement worker in the prison. She will have helped women in prison who have had similar situations. She can help you contact the social worker in an emergency. Do you have any family or friends who can look after the children? Give their details to the social worker and your lawyer. If you have arrived in prison and are worried that your children have been taken into care, you should take steps to contact the social worker as soon as possible. Think about who you would like the children to live with. Do you have a family member who could look after your children? If so, try to get in contact with them and give them the social worker’s contact details. They should tell the social worker that they want to look after your children while you are in prison. You should also tell the social worker who you want to look after your children. There are different legal ways the local authority can take children into care. These are: With your agreement – if you signed an agreement that your children could be taken into foster care. Go to the section on Section 20 agreements. Under police protection – this can only last for 72 hours. Once this time runs out the local authority will have to place the children with a family member (if you agree to this) or apply to the court for an order. You have to be told if they go to court. Go to the section on Police protection. Under an emergency court order – if the local authority ask the court to make an order for your children, you should be told about this. You should tell the social worker and your lawyer that you want to be in court when you speak to them. Your lawyer can ask for you to be brought to court for the hearing. Go to the section on Emergency protection orders. You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. If the local authority apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order, you will be able to get free legal advice. Finding a lawyer If you cannot pay for a lawyer to give you legal advice, you might be able to get legal aid. This means you will not pay for the legal advice you receive. If you are told the local authority is going to court, you can get a lawyer for free no matter what. You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. In an emergency, speak to the family engagement worker to see if they can help you to telephone a lawyer quickly. If you have access to the internet, you can find legal aid lawyers who specialise in family law here: https://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk/ You might be able to get legal aid even if the local authority is not going to court but it will depend on lots of different factors in the case. See the Useful contacts part of this guide for who to speak to about legal aid. If you want to challenge a decision made by the social worker but there are no court proceedings, you can speak to a lawyer who specialises in family law or public law. WHEN WILL A LOCAL AUTHORITY ASSESS YOUR CHILDREN AND FAMILY When a local authority is told that someone is worried about your children, they have to look into this. There are lots of different reasons why this might happen. For example: You are about to be sentenced and there is no one to look after your children while you are in prison While you are in prison, something happens causing professionals to be concerned about your children You are pregnant while you are in prison Key facts: The social worker should speak to everyone involved in your child’s life when they investigate, including you. The family engagement worker may be able to help you contact the social worker. If you can, try to get the social worker’s details from your family. The social worker should write to you with the outcome of their investigation. You should be sent a copy of any assessment the social worker writes about your children. If you believe that the social worker has not acted appropriately or has ignored important information, you can complain about the decision they have made. See the page on Complaints in this guide. When someone tells the local authority that your children are at risk of harm, they will investigate what they have been told. A social worker should speak to you, your children, the person caring for your children and your children’s wider family. The social worker may also speak to professionals who know you and your children, for example, your children’s school, doctor, health visitor, probation worker or other key workers. They may decide very quickly that they are not worried about your children and nothing else will happen. The social worker should write to you explaining what they have done and the reasons why. If the social worker feels that they do need to take further action, what action they take will depend on the information they received during their investigation. They will decide whether they think your children are at risk of harm. If they are, they will also decide what action the local authority can take to keep your children safe. The social worker will complete an assessment that explains their reasons. When the social worker is investigating your family, they should also be looking at strengths in the family. It is important to work with the social worker and encourage your family to do the same. If you feel they are not thinking about the strengths in your family, speak to them about this. You should expect the social worker to explain clearly why they are concerned about your child and what they expect you to do. You should be given a copy of the assessment when it is finished. If you do not believe the social worker has assessed your family properly, you can complain. See the page of this guide on Complaints. Possible outcomes of the assessment: No further action is taken Child in need plan Child protection conference Pre-proceedings meeting Written agreement Care proceedings Go to the sections in this guide for more information on each outcome. CHILD IN NEED PLANS The social worker may decide that your child is a child in need. What is it? If the social worker thinks that your child needs some support from professionals to keep them safe, they will say that your child is a child in need. This means they have a duty to help your child. It can include offering support to you or your family members to help your child. The social worker will put together a child in need plan with you and the people caring for your child. It will set out what support the social worker is going to offer your family. It might be something specifically for your child or something for another family member. A child in need plan does not affect your parental responsibility and it won’t give the local authority parental responsibility. For more information, see our guide, Children and the law: parental responsibility. What does it do? The child in need plan will set out what support the social worker is going to give your child depending on their individual circumstances. Support can come from lots of different places and will depend on the area where your child lives. For example, the social worker might: Refer your child to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (or CAMHS) Suggest the person caring for your child goes on a parenting course Help your child’s school arrange extra support for them in school Help the person caring for your child arrange visits for the child to see you If your child has a disability, they are also a child in need and the local authority has a duty to support your child and their carer. You can ask for help from the disabilities team in the local authority. CHILD PROTECTION CONFERENCES One of the actions the social worker might take when they have done their assessment is to organise a child protection conference. This happens if the social worker believes that your children continue to be at risk of significant harm. What is it? It is a meeting with a group of professionals who know about you and your children to share information and decide whether the children continue to be at risk of significant harm. The meeting will be led by a chairperson. This is normally someone who works in the local authority but does not work with the social worker. How can I take part in the conference? You should be told that a meeting is taking place and who is invited. The local authority should take steps to make sure that you are able to take part in the conference. The social worker and chairperson should try to work out the best way of doing this, for example, it may be possible for you to attend by videolink if the prison and local authority have the facilities. It is sometimes possible for an advocate to speak to you in prison and they can give your views to the conference for you. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find advocates in the UK as there is no national service. However, if you have experienced mental health difficulties or learning difficulties, you can ask the social worker for an advocate. Contact MIND or Mencap and ask them if there are any services near you. See additional support. You can write to the chairperson before the conference telling them what you think should happen. Speak to the family engagement worker to see if they can help you find out who the chairperson is and how to contact them. Who will be there? The social worker will invite: The person that is caring for your child The other parent Professionals involved with your child, for example, the GP, teacher, health visitor or midwife Professionals involved with you and your child’s carer for example, drug and alcohol support workers, probation officer, domestic violence support worker The police (if they are involved) What will happen? Before the conference, the social worker will prepare a report. They may also ask the professionals that are attending to provide a report of their knowledge of you or your children. You are entitled to see these reports. You should tell them if you have not received any of the reports and ask for these to be sent to you. Keep a copy of any letter you send to the local authority. At the conference, the social worker will summarise their assessment first. The other professionals and the person caring for your children will discuss their views too. After all of the information is shared, the chairperson will decide if she agrees that your children continue to be at risk of significant harm. If she does, she will make a child protection plan. This will set out what work needs to be done by everyone involved to make sure that your children are safe and supported. The child protection plan will be reviewed by the same group of people. The first review will be within 3 months. The plan will be reviewed every 6 months after that. What if I do not agree with what happened? If the chairperson or social worker has not made arrangements for your views to be given to the conference, you can complain about this. A record of the child protection conference should be made by the local authority and you are entitled to a copy of this. You should be sent a copy of the child protection plan after each conference. If you are not happy with the decision made at the child protection conference, you can complain about it. For example, if you did not receive the reports before the conference or you wrote to the chairperson and do not believe your views were considered, you can complain about this. You should be sent a copy of the complaints process for child protection conferences before the conference. If you were not given a copy of it, you can ask the chairperson to send it to you. You can ask the family engagement worker to help you find out how to contact the chairperson. You need to make the complaint within 12 months (1 year) of the local authority’s decision or they may not deal with it. If it is after 12 months and you want to complain, you will have to explain why you did not complain on time. They can decide, if you have a good reason, to deal with your complaint even if it was made after 12 months. If you are not happy with the local authority’s response to your complaint, you can raise it with the Local Government Ombudsman. You have to complain to the Ombudsman within 12 months of the local authority making a decision about your complaint or they may not deal with it. See the Useful contacts part of this guide. PRE-PROCEEDINGS MEETINGS/LEGAL GATEWAY MEETINGS A pre-proceedings meeting is sometimes called a legal gateway meeting. They are the same thing. What is it? When a local authority is very worried about your children, and considers them to be at significant risk of harm, but believes that there is a chance to work with your family to make changes for the children, they may invite you to a pre-proceedings meeting. The purpose of a pre-proceedings meeting is to agree a plan that will stop your children from being harmed or being at risk of harm. The local authority has a duty to avoid going to court if possible. This meeting is the last step the local authority will take to help your children while they are living with their family before they go to court. Who will be invited? The local authority will write to: You the children’s father if he has parental responsibility even if he is not involved in your children’s lives and the person caring for your children They will explain that they are thinking about going to court if the situation does not improve for your children. The letter should be clear about what the local authority wants. What will happen at the meeting? You should have a lawyer there to give you advice. You can get free legal advice for this meeting. You should contact a lawyer as soon as you receive the letter from the local authority. The family engagement worker can help you contact a lawyer. See the part of this guide on Finding a lawyer. These meetings are between the parent and the social worker. The local authority should arrange for this meeting to take place in prison. You can speak to the family engagement worker about the best way for this to happen and tell the social worker how to organise it. During the meeting, the social worker will explain what they are worried about and how they want things to change. You should give the social worker your views during this meeting. The social worker may ask you to sign a written agreement at the end of the meeting. You should take your time to think about what they are asking for. Speak to your lawyer before signing anything. You should ask the local authority if the person caring for your children has signed a written agreement and what they have agreed to do. You should also ask the local authority how they have agreed to support your children and their carer while you are in prison. WRITTEN AGREEMENTS You are entitled to legal advice before signing a written agreement at a Pre Proceedings or Legal Gateway meeting and should tell the social worker that you want legal advice before you sign a written agreement. What is it? A written agreement is a document that sets out what the local authority’s wants people to do including you and the person caring for your children. The purpose of what is written in the agreement should be to ensure the safety of your children and protect them from harm or the risk of harm. What does it mean? A written agreement is not legally binding. This means the local authority cannot force you to do something in the agreement. By signing a written agreement, you are agreeing that you will try to do what is written in the agreement. It is a sign that you intend to do something. If someone does not do what they agreed to in the written agreement, the local authority will think about going to court. Breaking a written agreement does not automatically mean the local authority will go to court but they will have to think about how safe the children are in light of the broken agreement. They may say to the court that your children are not safe with their carer because they broke the agreement. If someone does not do what they agreed to in the written agreement but the local authority decide that they are not going to court, it is possible they may organise another meeting. Instead, they may just speak to the person that broke the agreement and explain why they are worried about this. SECTION 20 AGREEMENTS Key facts: You may have signed an agreement before coming to prison. You can ask the social worker for a copy of the agreement so that you can speak to someone about it If you are being asked to sign an agreement, you can tell the social worker that you would like to speak to a lawyer first. Make sure you read the agreement before signing it. If you do not understand it, ask for it to be written so that you do understand it. In an emergency, the family engagement worker can help you to contact a lawyer. See the part of this guide on Finding a lawyer. If your children are given accommodation by the local authority under a section 20 agreement, they become looked after children. This means the local authority has certain duties towards them. Please see the part of this guide on Looked after children. Make sure you keep the social worker up to date on what your plans are after you are released from prison if you want your children returned to your care. What is it? You may sometimes hear the social worker talk about a section 20 agreement. This is a type of written agreement but it is an agreement that is specifically about the local authority providing accommodation for your children. It is called a section 20 agreement because the law about the local authority providing accommodation for your children comes from section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The local authority can provide accommodation in foster care or with relatives or friends. Does it give the local authority the right to make decisions for my children? A section 20 agreement does not give the local authority parental responsibility. They are not allowed to make decisions about the care of your children without your agreement. You should ask for legal advice as soon as possible if the local authority asks you to sign a section 20 agreement. Tell the social worker that you would like to speak to a lawyer. The local authority is not allowed to put conditions on your agreement. For example, you tell the local authority that you will agree to your children going to foster care under a section 20 agreement. The social worker tells you that you have to tell them 7 days before you end your agreement. The social worker is not allowed to put any conditions like this on your agreement. You are entitled to change your mind at any time after you have signed a section 20 agreement. What do I do if I have already signed a section 20 agreement? You should have a copy of the agreement. Ask the social worker for a copy if you do not have one. If you are happy for the agreement to continue, then this is fine. You can speak to someone to make sure you understand the agreement. If there are parts of the agreement that you do not like, you can ask the social worker to change them. You may find it helpful to speak to the family engagement worker or the Prisoners’ Advice Service to help you write to the social worker. See additional support. If you want to end the agreement, you can do this at any time. You can tell the social worker where you want your children to live. If you are worried that the social worker will go straight to court, see additional support and speak to a lawyer first. You may be able to get legal aid. What happens when I tell the social worker I want to end the agreement? If you change your mind or have been released from prison and want the children in your care, the local authority has to return your children either to your care or to someone you have chosen. If the social worker tells you that they have to assess the person you have chosen to care for your children before they are placed in their care, this is incorrect. If you no longer agree to a section 20 agreement, the local authority cannot keep your children in foster care as this would be unlawful. They have to either place your children with the person you have chosen or get an order from the court. You can tell the social worker that you no longer agree to the section 20 agreement in person or via telephone or by writing to them. It will make things easier to work with the social worker. Keep them up to date on where you will be living once you are released from prison, let them visit you and tell them before you are released that you want your children to live with you. Make sure they know when you are going to be released. If the local authority wants to keep your children in foster care, they have to apply for a court order. If the local authority does not return your children and they do not have a court order, this is unlawful and you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. COMPLAINTS If you are not happy about the way a social worker or staff at the local authority have behaved or do not believe they have conducted a fair investigation or assessment, you can complain. Each local authority has their own complaints process. If you are want to complain about the outcome of a child protection conference, see the page on Child protection conferences. If your case is in court proceedings, speak to your solicitor about raising your complaints through the court. The local authority should send you the information about how to complain when they send you assessments or the outcome of investigations. If you ask the social worker to send you the information about how to complain in writing, they have to send you this. You can ask the social worker to give you a copy of their complaints process or ask the family engagement worker to find out for you. It will be available on the local authority’s website. Unless you are complaining about the outcome of a child protection conference, you will initially complain to the social worker’s manager. You can then raise this again with someone higher in the local authority if you are not happy with the manager’s response. If you have followed the local authority’s complaints process and think your complaint was not dealt with properly, you can raise your complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman. You have to complain to the Ombudsman within 12 months of the local authority making a decision about your complaint or they may not deal with it. See additional support. Make sure you keep copies of any letters or information you send to the local authority about your complaint, including the complaint itself. There is a different complaints’ process for child protection conferences. See the page on Child protection conferences earlier in this guide. WHAT HAPPENS IN AN EMERGENCY? POLICE PROTECTION What is it? Sometimes, when the police are called in an emergency, they may be so concerned for the children’s welfare, that they decide to exercise their powers of police protection. This means that they can remove the children from their carers for up to 72 hours. For example, your young children are living with their father. The police have been called to his home and discover that he is not there and the children are home alone. The police can remove your children from the home because it is not safe to leave them there alone. Where will the children go? The police will contact social services and ask them to provide foster care for the children. What can you do from prison? If possible, the social worker should try to speak to you about what is happening. It will be difficult for the social worker to organise to see you in the short time that the children are in police protection. If you find out that this has happened from someone other than the social worker, ask them for the social worker’s details. Ask them to keep contacting the social worker to find out what is happening and to tell the social worker that you want to speak to them. Speak to the family engagement worker or offender management about making a telephone call to the social worker in an emergency. If you do not have the social worker’s details, ask the family engagement worker or offender management unit to help you find a number for the local authority. You will need to provide your children’s names and dates of birth when you call the local authority so they can track down the social worker on the telephone. If the social worker is not available when you call, ask to speak to their manager and explain that you are calling from prison and need to speak to someone while you are able to call. If you already have a family solicitor, contact them and they will be able to find out what the local authority is doing. What happens next? The local authority will then investigate the concerns. They will speak to the children, their carer and the other parent. They will find out as much information about the children as possible. It is unlikely that they will be able to arrange to visit you in prison in this short time but consider whether you are able to take any of the steps set out in What can you do from prison? If you have information that will be helpful to the social worker, ask the offender management unit or family engagement worker to let you make a telephone call to give them the information. You can ask the family engagement worker to stay in contact with the social worker for you. During the 72 hours, the social worker will be thinking about whether your children can return to their carer or if they need to get a court order to keep your children in foster care. This police power only lasts for up to 72 hours. If this time has passed, the children must be returned to their carer unless the court has made an order for the children to stay in foster care. The local authority could ask the court to make an emergency protection order or interim care order in this type of emergency situation. If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this guide, make sure you speak to someone about it. You can get legal advice about your circumstances from the Prisoners’ Advice Service. Or you may want to talk to someone about how you are feeling. You can speak to the family engagement worker, a peer mentor, the chaplaincy, the mental health team or the Samaritans. See the Useful contacts page at the end of this guide. EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDER What is it? An emergency protection order (or EPO) is an order that the court will make in an emergency situation to remove your child from the person caring for them. The local authority will normally make applications for these orders very quickly and the circumstances should be exceptional. The local authority needs to show the court that your child’s safety requires their immediate removal from the person caring for them. An order can be made for up to 8 days. In this time, the local authority will consider whether they need to apply to the court for a different order or to return the child to the person who was caring for them. In very unusual situations, the court can extend the order for an extra 7 days. An emergency protection order will give the local authority parental responsibility. Parental responsibility describes the legal duties and responsibilities a person has to a child. It affects the role that someone plays in making important decisions about a child’s life. Birth mother’s automatically have parental responsibility for their children. When an EPO is made, the local authority is also given parental responsibility, in addition to yours. This parental responsibility only lasts for as long as the order lasts. For more information about parental responsibility, see our guide, Children and the law: parental responsibility What can I do from prison? You can get free legal advice and have a lawyer represent you in court. You should normally be informed of an application for an EPO unless the delay in informing you of the application would leave the children in a dangerous situation. If the court decides to make an order without telling you, you must be informed within 48 hours of the order being made. As soon as you find out about the court case, you should try to contact a lawyer. Speak to offender management or the family engagement worker if you need to make an urgent telephone call. See the part of this guide on Finding a lawyer. The court should try to make arrangements for you to be taken to court for the hearing unless they consider the case to be so urgent that there is no time to wait. CARE PROCEEDINGS If the local authority is very concerned about the risk of significant harm to your child, they can apply to the court for a care order or a supervision order. They may do this after they have been involved with your child for some time and do not believe that the situation at home is improving. Alternatively, they may have started an assessment and decided that your child needs to be removed from their carer straight away. Sometimes, in an emergency, the local authority will make an urgent application for a care order, instead of applying for an emergency protection order as described earlier. You must be informed if the local authority decides to apply to the court for an order. As soon as you know the local authority wants to go to court, you should find a lawyer to represent you. You will be able to get legal aid and will not have to pay for your lawyer. See the part of this guide on Finding a lawyer. If you want to attend court, you should tell your lawyer and they will ask the court to make a production order that means you will be taken court for each hearing. While the case is ongoing, the court will give directions for parties to prepare evidence. Your lawyer will be able to help you understand what evidence you may want to provide, depending on what the local authority is saying. It is common for the court to give directions for assessments of the parents and carers. If you are serving a short sentence and wish to care for your child when you leave prison, you should make sure the court knows this. They may ask for a parenting assessment of you. If the children are in the care of the local authority, the local authority has a duty to support contact between parents and children. This includes while proceedings are ongoing. If you are having problems having contact with your child, you should speak to your lawyer and ask them to raise this with the court. There are a number of orders the court can make when a local authority applies for a care order. The main ones are: Interim care orders When the local authority applies for a care order, they can ask the court to make an order that will only stay in place while the case continues. This is called an interim care order. The local authority needs to show that there is reason to believe that your child was at risk of suffering or actually suffering significant harm as a result of the care they were receiving, or as a result of being out of the control of their carers. Once an interim care order is made, it will stay in place during the court case unless the court brings it to an end. Normally, the local authority will argue that your child needs to be in foster care under an interim care order. They will need to show the court that your child’s safety requires this. It is possible for the court to agree to make an interim care order but for your child to stay with the person who is caring for them. This is unusual. Normally, if the court makes an interim care order, your child will be placed in foster care. An interim care order gives the local authority parental responsibility for your children. It does not end your parental responsibility and they should still consult you on key decisions, however, they may be able to overrule your decisions if they believe it is in the child’s best interests. See our guide Children and the law: parental responsibility. Supervision orders A supervision order is an order that places a duty on a local authority to assist and support a child living at home. This may be with your child’s father or a family member. A supervision order can be made at the same time as an order that says your child is to live with a family member. It does not give the local authority parental responsibility for your child. The court can make a supervision order for up to 1 year. Before the order has ended, the local authority can ask the court to extend the order for up to 1 year more. A supervision order can only be extended up to 3 years at most. Care orders At the end of the court case, the court may make a care order. This is an order that gives the local authority parental responsibility for your child. It does not end your parental responsibility. Normally, if the local authority has a care order, your child will live with foster carers. Before asking the court to make a care order, the local authority must prepare a care plan. This should include information about what support the local authority will give your child. The care plan will also have information about your contact with your child. You should ask to discuss this with your lawyer. If you are not happy with the local authority’s plan for your contact, make sure your lawyer raises this with the court. Make sure you keep a copy of the final care plan. The local authority should do what it says. Special guardianship orders A special guardianship order is an order that appoints someone as your child’s special guardian. That person cannot be a parent. The order gives the special guardian parental responsibility for your child. They are sometimes made at the end of care proceedings. A special guardian is usually a friend of family member who can care for your child. The special guardian must still consult with you about important decisions to do with your child. However, they are able to overrule your decisions if they believe it is in the child’s best interests. See our guide Children and the law: when families cannot agree for further information about these orders. WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM PREGNANT WHILE I AM IN PRISON? If you are pregnant while in prison, the local authority will be told about this. It is natural to have a lot of questions about what will happen while you are pregnant in prison such as who to call when you go into labour, who will be there when you give birth, will your family be able to visit you after the birth. You can arrange to speak to the family engagement worker as soon as possible after you arrive in prison. Do not be scared to ask them lots of questions about how things work while you are in prison. Pre-birth child protection conference The local authority will probably arrange a pre-birth child protection conference. The local authority’s focus will most likely be on the risk of significant harm to your child once they are born. The rules for this are the same as set out above in the child protection conference section. Try to think about what you would like to happen after you give birth The social worker should discuss with you what you would like to happen after you have given birth. You should think about this well before you give birth. For example, if you are serving a long prison sentence, do you have any family or friends who can look after your child during your sentence? If you are due to give birth while you are still in prison, the local authority will be thinking about whether they want to apply for a court order once the baby is born. It is not definite that they will apply to the court for an order but they will think about all of the options available to them. They should discuss this with you before the birth. Mother and baby units It is possible for babies to stay with their mother in prison in a special mother and baby unit. Babies are able to stay with their mothers in a mother and baby unit until they are approximately 18 months old. If you are expecting to give birth while you are in prison or have a child under 18 months old, you can apply for a place in a mother and baby unit. Not all prisons have mother and baby units but you can still apply to go to one in a different prison. Make sure you tell the local authority that this is what you would like to happen. The Prisoners’ Advice Service have a self-help toolkit on Mother & Baby Units that explains the application process fully. See the Useful contacts page at the end of the guide for how to contact them. The prison will also tell the local authority that you have applied for a place in a mother and baby unit. They will be asked to complete an assessment if they have not already completed one. You should make an application to the mother and baby unit as early as possible, as your application will have to be decided by an admissions board. You must be able to participate in the hearing. If you cannot attend in person, a video or telephone link should be set up (if that happens, you must give your consent in writing). If you cannot attend even by a video or telephone link, you must be allowed to make a full written submission prior to the hearing date. If you attend in person, you can ask to be accompanied by another appropriate person for support. If your first language is not English you must be provided with translation services. What happens when my child has to leave the mother and baby unit? If you would like your baby’s father or other family to care for the baby, you can still ask to care for the baby in a mother and baby unit for approximately the first 18 months. The 18-month rule used to be strictly applied but after a successful case in the courts some flexibility now should be allowed depending on the circumstances of the case. The person you are proposing to care for the baby will have to be assessed by the local authority before they can care for them If you would like to find out more about mother and baby units and how to apply for a place, speak to the Prisoners’ Advice Service for detailed advice on your situation. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR CHILDREN ARE IN CARE? If the local authority has an interim care order, full care order or you signed a section 20 agreement for your child, they become a looked after child. The local authority has certain duties towards looked after children. What does this mean for your child? Care plan/looked after child plan Every looked after child should have a plan in place for the local authority’s care of that child. Depending on the local authority it may be called a care plan or a looked after child plan. You should be given a copy of this. There should be separate plans for each child. Looked after child reviews An important part of the local authority’s responsibility towards looked after children is a looked after child review. For every looked after child, the local authority should have a looked after child review within 20 days of the child becoming looked after. The second looked after child review should take place within 3 months of the first one. The third and all following looked after child reviews should take place within 6 months of the second review and every 6 months after that. The purpose of a looked after review is to review the care that your child is receiving. This will include looking at: Where your child is living and whether it is meeting your child’s needs Your child’s educational needs and how they are being met Your child’s health needs and how they are being met Your child’s wishes and feelings about the care they are receiving The contact your child is having with family members including you What does this mean for you? If there is a care order or interim care order in place, the local authority will have parental responsibility for your children but you will continue to have your parental responsibility. Despite the local authority having parental responsibility, they will have to obtain your consent to any important decisions about your children, for example, if they want to move your children to a different school or go on holiday abroad they must have your consent. The local authority will also need your consent for any activity that a parent would normally have to consent to such as school trips or ear piercing. See our guide Children and the law: parental responsibility If there is no court order in place, the local authority will not have parental responsibility and will not be able to make decisions about your children. They will have to discuss decisions with you and if you do not agree, it will not be possible for them to take any further action. You should have your views taken into account at the review. This may involve the social worker speaking to you before the review to explain what will be discussed and ask for your views. Alternatively, you could write to the local authority before the review and raise any concerns you have. You should be given a copy of the record of the review. If you are worried that the local authority has not made any attempts to include you in the review, you can make a complaint. See the page on Complaints. CONTACT WITH LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN If your children are in the care of the local authority under an interim care order or care order, the local authority has a duty to allow your children to have contact with you. When the local authority decides how contact will take place, they will consider the relationship between you and your children and any practical arrangements for how contact will take place. For example, if you are in a prison a long distance away from your children, it is likely that your children will visit less often than if they were living nearby. This is because the local authority has to consider the impact that contact visits will have on the rest of your child’s life and this would include the length of travel. The local authority must set out what contact arrangements they suggest before the court makes a care order. If you are not happy with the proposals, you should ask your lawyer to raise this with the court. If your children are in the care of the local authority under a section 20 agreement, they still have a duty to arrange contact between you and your children. However, in this situation, the local authority does not have parental responsibility so they cannot stop contact. They have to discuss the best contact arrangements with you and make those arrangements. What do I do if the local authority is not bringing my children to see me? If the local authority has a court order, they can decide to stop contact between a parent and child in an emergency. They must give you written reasons for this. They can only stop contact for 7 days. If they want to stop contact for longer than this, they must get the court’s permission. If you believe that the local authority is being difficult about contact, for example, they make arrangements and then cancel them at the last minute. Or they may have changed the contact routine so they are bringing the children to see you less often, you can apply to court for an order for contact with a child in care. You may want to think about the following before you make an application to court: Keep a record of the contact you do have and when contact has been cancelled or rearranged. Speak to the social worker about contact. Listen to the reasons that the social worker has given for why contact has been cancelled or changed. Think about whether the reasons the social worker has given are in the best interests of your children. For example, maybe your children have just started school and are finding it tiring coming to see you so often. If this is affecting their schooling, then it may be best for the children to reduce how often they come to see you. Write to the social worker and explain why you are not happy with the reasons they have given. Set out a contact routine that you believe is best for the children. Write to the person that arranges the looked after child reviews. You should have been given their contact details. If you do not have them, the social worker should give them to you. Ask them to review contact at the next looked after child review. If the social worker speaks to you about a plan to slowly increase contact or has a timeframe in mind for when contact will change, ask them to put this in writing to you. If none of this is successful, then you can make an application to the court. The court can make an order setting out how often your child should visit you and include details for how this will happen. They will make an order if they believe this is in your child’s best interests. Speak to the Prisoners’ Advice Service for more information about how to make this application. WHO CAN HELP YOU IN THE PRISON? The family engagement worker can provide a lot of support including contacting family or social workers on your behalf. The Prisoners’ Advice Service can provide legal advice and should be able to tell you if you can get legal aid for your case. The Samaritans can provide emotional support if you need a safe place to talk. The chaplaincy can provide emotional support and someone to talk to about your problems. A peer mentor can help you talk through your problem. The mental health team are available if you feel you are being affected by any issues in relation to your family Speak to a custody officer if you feel overwhelmed and need support immediately. ADDITIONAL SUPPORT Please be prepared that although a lot of the services listed work across England and Wales, sometimes availability is limited to areas or to specific prisons. We have not included services that offer support to women even if it is currently limited to a particular area. This is because the availability of services varies across time and although a service is not available across the country at the moment, this may change. It is always worth exploring whether you are able to get support where you are. You can find a list of useful contacts for further support here.